A barrage of discordant notes invaded Alan's subconscious, rousing him from his sleep. Groggily he groped the nightstand until his hand rested upon the cool plastic of his wailing alarm clock. He yanked the plug out from its outlet and watched with pleasure as the red L.E.D. blipped into nothingness. Light filtered in through the window blinds in shafts of orange and yellow, casting odd shadows about the room.

Wearily, Alan removed himself from the comfort of his bed and went about his morning routine. A quick glance in the bathroom mirror revealed a youth in an old man's body. Patches of gray were visible in the thinning sea of lustrous brown hair. Dark circles surrounded two lifeless blue eyes. Frighteningly pale skin was covered with angry red splotches. A lack of sleep and poor nutrition made his 6'2'' awkward frame look almost skeletal. Dismayed, he let his eyes drift down where he discovered more of the hideous sores all over his chest, his arms, and his legs.

A quick shower and change of clothes later, Alan eased himself down onto his couch and turned on the television to watch the morning news. Instantly he was greeted by images of people screaming and sobbing in agony; bodies covered in the very same sores he bore; a parade of hearses rolling into cemeteries across the nation carrying those who had succumbed to the life-draining disease. Feelings of despair and dread washed over the sickly man as his eyes were riveted to the screen, disgustingly awed by the wretched phenomenon that was presently unfolding. To know that it would be his body buried beneath the earth six months from now was horrifying, and yet weirdly comforting. Soon the aches and pains, the constant nausea, and the burning red sores would be gone forever…

With a groan Alan turned off the set and strode into the bedroom, remembering that he had not yet taken his daily pill. A quick search through a dresser-drawer produced a stark-white bottle decorated in brightly coloured labels and warnings. His doctor had given him the medicine nearly two months ago when a routine physical revealed that Alan was carrying the strain for the deadly disease. The cause and effects of the disease were relatively new back then; few knew how devastating the virus could be. The doctor had reassured Alan that he'd be fine and, in two months, the pills would have eradicated all signs of the unusual sickness.

Two months had come and gone, and Alan was in worse shape than ever. Though the medicine could dull the throbbing pain in his back and limbs, it could not erase it completely. The sores had gone from simple misshapen moles to massive eyesores that itched and burned every second of his life. The special cream his doctor had prescribed to him did nothing the ease the pain. In fact, after a week or so of use he threw it away because it proved ineffective. The constant torment was, at times, unbearable. The sickness had driven away those he loved; family, friends, and the few co-workers he'd known well. The only light that penetrated the darkness of his isolated life was the soft illumination of the TV.

Alan popped opened the pill bottle and immediately dry-swallowed two capsules, ignoring the bitter taste. Passing clouds blocked the sun, temporarily casting the room in grey shadows. Suddenly, Alan felt painfully alone. He'd never thought much of it until now. He had simply accepted it as a part of his life. How he wished, though, to have someone who'd love him and care for him. How he wished that society could look beneath his ill appearance and see the person inside. Grimly, he pondered the notion of suicide. He was dying, anyways. Why not speed things up a bit?, he thought darkly.

A sharp ring from the telephone startled Alan out of his dreary reverie. He considered not answering the call, and for a few minutes he listened indifferently to the shrill ringing. Much to his pleasure the answering machine picked up. Not caring whom it was and for what reason, he stretched himself across his bed, eyes gazing at the ceiling above. The soft voice of a woman drifted into the room, albeit faint. Alan listened with slight curiosity as she carried out her message. About halfway through, though, his eyes widened and his heart sank even further from where it was. It suddenly dawned on him that she was talking about re-location. Where to, he'd no clue.

Somewhat worried by this disturbing piece of news, Alan got up and re-played the message. He listened with disgust as the woman declared that, because of his "condition," he would be moved with several thousand other people into quarantined apartments for the safety of the general public. The government had seemingly overnight deemed those bearing the deadly disease too dangerous to live amongst the uninfected, and thus would have to live a segregated life. At least, that is, until they died.

Alan didn't bother listening to the rest of the message. He went back into the bedroom and searched through several boxes tucked away in the closet. At long last he pulled out what he was looking for: a gun. It was a gift from his father, now dead. Carefully, he cradled the weapon in his hand, feeling the weight of the handle. He checked the chamber; a sole bullet glinted in the dull light.

Now trembling, Alan brought the barrel up to his left temple. A sad smile crept across his lips. He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

THE END